Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Filmmaker produces documentary to fight human sex trafficking
Slavery in the United States has been illegal since President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation more than 150 years ago. Human sex trafficking is just as illegal, which leaves in its wake thousands of broken victims. It is one of the fastest growing crimes in Memphis and Shelby County.
According to a 2011 study conducted by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations, there were 100 documented cases of adult victims and 100 juveniles ensnared in commercial sex trafficking in Shelby County.
“Now, there are about 4,000 cases in Memphis, Tenn.,” said Michelle Sweeney, a 28-year-old documentary filmmaker who hopes to emancipate as many victims as she can by drawing attention to the documentary she produced called “No Way Home.”
The documentary is about sex trafficking from two perspectives: the mother of an 11-year-old who tried to pry her daughter from her perpetrator’s coercive grip, and a once hardened pimp who now denounces the practice.
“It’s a cold world. Don’t just think it’s a game. People have lost their lives. People got hurt. People are selling people,” warns the ex-pimp, who is veiled in shadows to protect his identity as he uncovers the illegal practice of forcing a woman to sell her body.
Human sex trafficking is defined as illegal coercion of adult prostitution or the sexual exploitation of men, women and children for profit.
“As long as there is a desire and a demand from johns to have sex, sex trafficking will continue,” Sweeney said. “It happens to the lower class. It happens to the middle class. It happens to the affluent.”
The crestfallen mother in the film explains how an adult male lured her daughter into prostitution. “She left out walking with a group of friends. This adult male drove up. Not wanting to be embarrassed in front of her group of friends, she ended up getting into the car with the guy.”
The man, she says, took her daughter to CK’s Coffee Shop, left her there for two hours, and came back with his friends. “They gave her drugs. She drank alcohol over in the night. This is when the rape occurred. This is in the same area where we lived in off of Flowering Peach.”
From that point on, “her attitude turned dark,” the mother says. Then it became increasingly difficult for her to save her daughter, whose defenses were broken down and her emotions frayed by the man who controlled her every move.
“It depends on where you’re hurting. Some guys, they’ll find the weak spot. Or they’ll find your addiction,” the ex-pimp says, noting that women 11 to 60 are vulnerable to sex trafficking and recruited through Craigslist, Backpage, Facebook, and other social media sites.
Sweeney released a 12-minute version of the documentary recently to gage the public’s response. She’s planning to finish the documentary by year’s end and present it to churches, organizations and the Tennessee State Legislature to create awareness.
She also hopes the documentary will educate people. “When the legislature is able to see the documentary, they’ll see it is a real problem in Memphis. It’s a real issue. It’s a story of a real person, not just numbers on a page.”
There are signs to look for if someone is being trafficked for sex: “carries hotel keys/ key cards, unable or unwilling to give local address or information about parent(s)/guardian, or chronic runaway/homeless youth.”
Last month, for example, Memphis police arrested 28-year-old Nicholas Webster for forcing a woman into a bedroom to have sex with a man for money. He was charged with rape and Trafficking for Commercial Sex Act. A bond was set at $100,000.
If you suspect a case of human trafficking, call the Tennessee Human Trafficking Hotline: 855-558-6484.